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Blood Stem Cell Start-Up Launches, Earns $48.5M Funding

David Scadden

David Scadden (B.D. Colen, Harvard University)

17 November 2016. A new enterprise, spun-off from Harvard University stem cell labs, aims to make stem cell transplants from bone marrow safer and more reliable. The new company, Magenta Therapeutics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is also raising $48.5 million in its first venture financing round.

Magenta Therapeutics is licensing discoveries from the lab of David Scadden, professor of medicine at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, affiliated with Harvard. Scadden’s research teams study stem cells in bone marrow that transform into red blood cells, known as hematopoietic stem cells, particularly processes that disrupt development of healthy blood cells leading to leukemia and other blood disorders.

Bone marrow transplants to treat blood-related cancers today are risky procedures, first requiring elimination of the patient’s own stem cells before transplanting stem cells from donors. To take out the patient’s own stem cells often means techniques such as chemotherapy and radiation, which have adverse side effects, including damage to the immune system raising the risk of infections.

In June 2016, Scadden and colleagues reported on an alternative transplant process with engineered antibodies, rather than chemotherapy or radiation, that specifically targets receptors found only on blood-forming stem cells in lab mice induced with sickle-cell anemia. The antibodies succeeded in removing nearly all of the blood-forming stem cells, making it possible to transplant more than 90 percent of a donor’s stem cells, and correcting the sickle-cell anemia. The process also spared bone marrow and subsequent white blood cells from damage that maintained immune systems in the test mice.

Magenta Therapeutics is developing new techniques based on Scadden’s research to make bone marrow transplants safer for patients. The company plans to adapt the antibody-based process, but also employ faster and more efficient stem cell harvesting techniques from donors with growth factor proteins, and more productive stem cell culturing methods in the lab, to produce the quantity of cells needed for transplant. Scadden chairs the company’s scientific advisory committee.

Magenta incubated for the past year with life science investment companies Third Rock Ventures and Atlas Venture, that led the company’s first funding round providing $48.5 million. Jason Gardner, co-founder and CEO of Magenta, says in a company statement the technology can be applied to a variety of blood and immune-system disorders, including early stage cancers and autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and scleroderma.

“There has been terrific innovation in stem cell science recently, and it is time to bring this forward to patients,” Gardner adds. “Our ultimate goal is to reboot the blood and immune systems safely to make a significant impact on the overall quality of life for a much broader group of patients that can benefit from transplant.”

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